A Year in the Philippines
Volume 21 Number 4
Friday, 15 January 2010 10:31
I am a 24-year-old Canadian who has spent a little over a year living and working in the Philippines. After having worked short-term jobs with the Philippine government and in the private sector, I recently began a new position as an Information Technology intern with TFDP.

My first year in the Philippines was a delight. I delighted in the natural beauty of the Philippines’ soaring mountains and its sandy beaches, and I savored the nation’s rich culture and delectable cuisine. After growing up in Edmonton, a city that is bitterly cold even by Canadian standards, I certainly found much to enjoy in the Philippine climate of nearly perpetual warmth and sunshine. But most importantly, I endlessly marveled at the kindness, the friendliness and the legendary hospitality of the Filipino people.
My fondest memory of this first year in the Philippines was a weeklong trip to Bicol in April 2007. I traveled alone, zooming between stately baroque churches, waterfalls and volcanoes inside (and sometimes hanging from the backs of) jeepneys. I was endlessly astonished by the hospitality of the Bicolanos, including a group of total strangers who invited me over for a meal of tilapia, biko and far too much ginebra as I was walking along Bacon Beach in Sorsogon. And as a lover of rich and spicy food, I naturally devoured endless platefuls of chili- and coconut milk-soaked ginataang gulay and ginataang isda at the long rows of outdoor turo-turo stalls in Legaspi and Naga, undeterred by the ferocious tag-init heat.

But I must admit that, during my first year here, I tried not to look too closely at the nation’s grim political realities. As someone who would rather see different parts of Metro Manila and of the Philippines than hide out in the Makati or Ortigas business districts, I inevitably saw abundant evidence of the horrendous poverty and economic inequality that afflict the Filipino people. It is hard to miss the galling contrast between ads for posh condos advertising “the high life” and streets filled with child beggars in tattered rags. But although I was also dimly aware of the corruption, cronyism and secrecy that plague the Philippine political system and contribute to so many of the nation’s problems, I tried to bury my head in the sand. Much as my heart ached for the Filipino, I felt both helpless to do anything and, as an outsider, not entitled to meddle in the affairs of a country where I was merely a guest.

Starting my internship with TFDP has changed all of that. Beyond the more stark examples of injustice that face us everyday in the Philippines, I have become aware of the many incidents that are quietly hushed up by their perpetrators. For every extrajudicial killing of a journalist that is, for obvious reasons, loudly trumpeted by the media, there are many more under-publicized murders of leftist political activists, perpetrated under the pretext of anti-communist campaigns. And whereas before I may have felt neither able nor worthy to work for social justice and political change in the Philippines, I can now make at least a small contribution to a grassroots organization that is truly by and for Filipinos.

Most of my work with TFDP will involve improvements to the TFDP web site, The Internet is an incredibly powerful tool for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to share information, educate the public, connect their members, promote their cause and network with other NGOs. This is all the more true in the Philippines, a country where freedom of the press is often compromised. I hope that, during my few months with TFDP, I will be able to enhance the web site and make it a better tool for TFDP’s fight for social justice. Perhaps, by doing this, I can give a little bit back to the country and the people who have brought me so much happiness.

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Last Updated on Friday, 15 January 2010 11:34

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